updated 2:11 PM CET, Oct 31, 2023

Continued lack of U.S.-provided vaccines for expats weighs on frustrated Americans in Thailand

A view of Bangkok, where Thailand's Covid cases have been concentrated A view of Bangkok, where Thailand's Covid cases have been concentrated

Americans living in Thailand say their continuing calls for the U.S. to provide them with Covid-19 vaccinations – in recognition of their status as U.S. taxpayers, owing to America's citizenship-based tax regime – still are not being acted upon as they would like, even as the numbers of infections and Covid-related deaths continue to rise steadily in the Southeast Asian country.

Such expats point to what are becoming daily updates concerning the worsening Covid-19 situation in Thailand, by such news organizations as the Bangkok Post, Phuket News, The Nation, Reuters news agency, and AseanNow.com– a popular news website formerly known asThaivisa.com.

They say they're increasingly worried that the virus will reach them long before they're able access a Covid-19 jab. 

Meanwhile, they point to an AseanNow.com report posted today (Friday) that says the French Ambassador to Thailand, Thierry Mathou, has said that French nationals over the age of 18 who are currently living in the country would "soon be able to register for a free Covid-19 vaccination courtesy of the French Embassy in Bangkok."

Like most countries other than the U.S., France doesn't tax its expats, and it also has elected lawmakers in Paris who specifically represent only those French citizens who live abroad, something U.S. expats lack.

Earlier this year, the U.S. launched a free vaccination program for all Homeland Americans who wished to take advantage of it, in addition to vaccinating "tens of thousands of [U.S.] Foreign Service personnel and their families" as well as "more than one million" vaccine doses to U.S. military personnel "across more than 80 international facilities around the world" (as two ex-U.S. ambassadors described it, in a May 27 Wall Street Journal opinion piece).

As reported, a bipartisan group of 26 U.S. lawmakers wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 24 to urge him to make Covid-19 vaccines available to American expats at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas.

Joseph A. Noble is a retired American who has been living in Thailand since 2009. In his opinion, the Biden administration "is getting it all wrong" in its handling of the vaccine issue, as it affects America's expats.

"They are connecting giving vaccines to other countries with giving vaccines to Americans living in other countries," he told the American Expat Financial News Journal this past week.

"They should see it instead as two separate issues.

"And it should be two separate shipments of vaccines as well.

"Thailand has welcomed other countries, including the U.S., to vaccinate their own people in Thailand. France agreed to do it while, so far, the U.S. has refused.

"U.S. officials are more worried about offending people in other countries, by being seen to be putting their own citizens ahead of those in Third World countries, than they are concerned about taking care of their own people.”

U.S. government spokespeople say they don't have any official estimates as to the numbers of Americans currently living in Thailand, but unofficial estimates put the number at around 40,000. Thailand's total population is around 69 million, according to official data from a variety of sources. Less than 5% of the country's population has been fully inoculated, media reports say. 

France to make single dose J&J vaccine
available 'to all French nationals over 18'

France, meanwhile, is going ahead with its plans to vaccinate its expats in Thailand, as the AseanNow.com report noted today. 

It quoted Ambassador Mathou as saying, in a statement: "The single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be [made] available to all French nationals in Thailand aged over 18.

"The news comes just weeks after the French Embassy stepped in to procure vaccines for its citizens [living in Thailand who were] aged over 55.

"The French Embassy ha[s] reached an agreement with the Bangkok Hospital group to set up vaccination centers for its citizens in Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Ko Samui, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani."

Ambassador Mathou, the report added, confirmed that France had completed the first phase of its vaccine rollout in Thailand, targeting those French expats aged 55 and over.

In another development, reported online today by the Bangkok Post, a Thailand health insurance company, Syn Mun Kong Insurance, was said to have announced, on its Facebook page, that it was cancelling its Covid-19 insurance policies with its customers, saying, that the "rapidly-deteriorating situation made the risk [of continuing to offer the insurance policies] unmanageable." 

According to the Bangkok Post report, the Stock Exchange of Thailand-listed insurance firm said its "Covid 2-1 insurance policies for all clients would be terminated 30 days after they receive a letter from the company officially notifying them of the change."

The Syn Mun Kong Insurance company's Facebook page is written in Thai, and it therefore wasn't immediately possible to confirm the news reports. A scan of its website didn't reveal this announcement either.

There is a page on its website that references the SMK Covid-19 insurance policy, which says one could "check the status and download" information about the Covid-19 policy, but it requires an insured person's policy details.

Other stories having to do with the vaccine issue in Thailand that have been published in the last few days have included:

  • A Reuters report posted on Thursday that quoted a Thai government minister as saying that AstraZeneca had asked Thailand "to extend the timeline for the delivery of 61 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine by five months," which the article noted was likely to "further disrupt the country's sluggish vaccine rollout"

  • The European Union added Thailand to its list of countries from which visitors would not be permitted to enter, owing to its growing number of Covid-19 cases

    Last week (July 7), the Bangkok Post reported that plans were being put in place to convert a terminal at the main international airport outside Bangkok into a field hospital, including an intensive-care ward, for Covid-19 patients, to relieve the pressure on Bangkok's hospitals. The temporary hospital would initially provide "at least 5,000 beds," it added, quoting a government statement 

  • The head of Thailand's publicly-traded Thonburi Healthcare Group Plc was reported to be in talks with Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech about a "private order" to import some 20 million coronavirus doses of the coronavirus vaccine. BioNTech denied the report, while a Pfizer spokesperson told Reuters that the company was only in discussions with Thailand's health ministry and disease control department 

State Dept: 'No 'direct medical care', but...'

Asked on Friday about whether the news of other countries making arrangements for their expat citizens to get vaccinated and the recent issues in Thailand were prompting U.S. officials to reconsider their policy of not providing vaccines directly, a State Department spokesperson reiterated that "direct medical care to private citizens abroad" would continue not to be on offer.

"The U.S. Department of State has no greater responsibility than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas," the spokesperson said, in a prepared statement, (which may be viewed in full by clicking "next" at the bottom of this page).

"We continue to communicate travel advice to U.S. citizens during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

"While the Department of State does not provide direct medical care to private U.S. citizens abroad, we are:

      • "Working with countries that have a robust vaccination program to ensure all residents, including U.S. citizens, can receive vaccines. 

      • "Ensuring U.S. citizens overseas who travel back to the United States can be vaccinated easily and effectively.... 

      • "Providing all appropriate consular assistance to U.S. citizens in need overseas.  This includes providing U.S. citizens with clear information regarding eligibility to receive a vaccination in a foreign country, or providing repatriation loans to assist destitute U.S. citizens with travel back to the United States. 

      • [Providing] country-specific information, regarding vaccine availability, on each embassy’s COVID-19 page...The full list is available on our travel.state.gov website." 

To view the "Covid-19 Information" page on the American Embassy in Thailand's website, which among other things includes a June 23rd "Message to American Citizens in Thailand from (U.S.) Chargé d’Affaires Michael G. Heath," click here.

Embassy website health alert As this story was going to press, the U.S. Embassy was posting a notice on its website, pictured left, informing U.S. citizens that the Thai government was "offering U.S. citizens in Thailand the opportunity to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine at 4 p.m. this Sunday July 18" at a  location in the Bang Sue area of Bangkok.

However, a posting on the Facebook page of the American Legion's Thailand outpost, which had re-printed the U.S. Embassy notice, was followed by a comment from someone named Ron Brickerd which said; "Gone already. Registration was closed in less than 15 minutes." 

'Worst outbreak so far'

According to various media sources, Thailand is currently in the throes of its worst Covid-19 outbreak thus far, with a record 98 coronavirus deaths reported yesterday (Thursday), taking total fatalities to 3,032 since the pandemic began last year.

An additional 9,186 new infections have just been reported, bringing total cases to 372,215.

The country's main vaccine rollout began just last month, and thus far only about 5% of its more than 66 million people have been fully vaccinated.

While this is far lower than in most developed countries, the figure compares with only about 1% of Africans, according to an article published on the New York Times website today, which noted that the Delta variant is taking a toll there (as it also is in Thailand), and that "rich nations have bought up most doses" of Covid-19 vaccines, "long into the future, often far more than they could conceivably need."

The article adds: "Hundreds of millions of shots from a global vaccine-sharing effort have failed to materialize." 

To read the full response of a U.S. State Department official to questions asked about the U.S. government's response to the vaccine crisis in Thailand, click on "Next", below right.

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